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Brownfield resource aims to be a one-stop-shop across Canada

Don Procter
Brownfield resource aims to be a one-stop-shop across Canada

A Toronto university research project to create an inventory of provincial and municipal incentive programs across Canada that support brownfield development is an ambitious and time-consuming process.

But its outcome should be worth the effort, proving to be an invaluable resource for both public agencies and private developers in the affordable housing development arena.

Chris De Sousa, professor at Toronto Metropolitan University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, said the research endeavour that includes a team of students at TMU, is also looking at redevelopment outcomes on brownfields and will recommend “promising incentives” from Canada and other jurisdictions.

“There is no one-stop-shop for the information in any of the provinces,” De Sousa told a seminar panel at the Canadian Brownfields Network conference held at TMU recently.

While most provinces offer few financial incentives for brownfield development, Ontario and Quebec are exceptions.

One of those incentives in Quebec has the province providing up to 90 per cent of the rehabilitation costs for social housing and 75 per cent for other projects.

De Sousa added Ontario municipalities with community improvement plans can offer brownfield incentives such as tax assistance, feasibility money and planning fee grants.

Residential has been one of the main uses of brownfields in Toronto since 1996. Between 2004 and 2015, 67 per cent of the Record of Site Conditions (RSC) filed by the province to establish site conditions of brownfields was for housing construction.

“Housing has been the brownfields story,” he told the conference.

To push reclamation costs down he said brownfield development can obtain government financial aid through several sources, including tax incentives and grants for issues such as demolition and cleanup.

Developers also have access to offsets by municipalities that allow, for example, additional density and rezoning which hike land values, he said.

“The good news is you are seeing housing as a popular use of brownfields…Unfortunately, you are seeing a decline in specific funding.”

Tom Li Parsons Corporation
Tom Li

Panellist Tom Li, business operations and development manager, environment and energy with Parsons Corporation, spoke on brownfield developments in Alberta, B.C. and Ontario. Parsons primarily works with large oil and gas and commercial clients with many sites across the province.

The timelines for RSCs for development are similar in the three provinces, he said, but B.C. has a requirement for developers to address offsite contamination, particularly in urban areas.

“It’s a big issue that adds to the predictability of the process,” he said.

Li said he believes in Ontario developers go through site plan approvals and building permit stages, often a several-year process, before being exposed to third-party comments that can stall a project.

Nima Kia Housing Now
Nima Kia

Nima Kia is the director of development and Housing Now at CreateTO, the City of Toronto agency launched in 2018 to manage the city’s real estate portfolio.

A response to the housing shortage, Housing Now includes 22 sites on surplus lands in Toronto with a total target delivery of 16,500 rental and affordable rental housing units.

Kia said to meet its goals, Housing Now will have to go through extensive zoning work with each community to get approvals for affordable housing.

“I think as a society that stigma that we have attached to affordable housing is a big barrier for us. Beyond the technical aspects of delivery through the zoning process…the public process is quite challenging. ” said Kia.

Risk management measures are transferred from Housing Toronto to ground leases with the records of site conditions registered against the City of Toronto, he said. It allows developers to build on the property without actually purchasing the land.

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